Hooray for hellebores!
It’s April 2023, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s been cold, wet and cold again. Spring is undoubtedly late this year. But there is something to celebrate: Hellebores – beautiful little plants with an inner toughness that belies their delicate exterior. We thought we’d delve into our top five favourite cultivars. Hellebores like partial shade in a humus rich soil which is not too damp. Although Hellebores have evergreen leaves, by spring foliage may have become tatty and frost damaged, so remove all scruffy, blackened leaves in early spring to allow flowers to fully emerge. Watch out for botrytis (grey mould), caused by excesive wet. If left unchecked, botrytis can quickly spread to the flower stems and deprive you of flowers (this year hasn’t been great for botrytis because it’s been so wet).
Our top five hellebores:
Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’
Top of the list and my personal favourite: Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ really packs a punch at this time of year. It’s taller and more substantial than many hellebores, and works beautifully well when interplanted with Narcissus ‘Thalia’ and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. It features beautiful marbled foliage as well as deep wine coloured petals with cheery bright yellow stamens. This lovely plant is bred by horticulturalist Rodney Davey Plants near Axminster, Devon. It has the size and scale to have real visual impact at this time of year something that other hellebores can lack.
Image: Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ shown here with Narcissus ‘Thalia’
Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’
Another fabulous Hellebore from breeder Rodney Davey Plants, and in many ways the sister plant to ‘Anna’s Red’. A gentler pink, this Hellebore works well with ‘Anna’s Red’, creating a multi-tonal effect, long-flowering and beautiful foliage. The success of the Rodney Davey Hellebores has led to a whole stable of cultivars including ‘Pippa’s Purple’, ‘Diana’s Dulcet, ‘Moondance’, ‘Mollys White’ and ‘Dorothy’s Dawn’ and many more. Hellebores can be quite expensive to buy, so choosing ones which are large enough to be seen and appreciated from indoors as well as outside, is always a priority at this time of year. Keep an eye out for Rodney Davey Hellebores and you won’t regret it.
Image: ‘Penny’s Pink’ a slightly softer pink shade but when planted with ‘Anna’s Red’ creates a beautiful multi-tonal effect.
Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Pirouette’
Fifty years ago, nurseryman Eric Smith managed to combine three Hellebores to produce an unusual and gorgeous plant. Today there are a wide range of ericsmithii cultivars but ‘Pirouette’ is a beautiful top perfoming Hellebore. Packed with flowers at this time of year, this cultivar features multi-tonal shades of pink which is part of its charm. This Hellebore is a more traditional size reaching 40cm with a spread of around 40cm. Over time it clumps up nicely and flowers its heart out to beautiful effect. It’s one to look out for at plant nurseries or your can buy from online suppliers including Crocus.
Image: Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Pirouette’ is a flowering powerhouse!
Helleborus × hybridus ‘Harvington Double Chocolate’
At Easter it would be shame not to indulge, and ‘Double Chocolate’ is just the mouthwatering thing…with zero calories too! Hellebore flowers might usually be described as ‘homey’ – soft rounded petal shapes, pretty pastel colours and freckles. This Hellebores is a bit more of a catwalk model with classy ruffles, high cheekbones and taller than most hellebores. Like ‘Anna’s Red’ it’s perfectly paired with the silver foliage and airy baby blue flowers of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ or even Brunnera ‘Hapsden Cream’ and although Hellebores emerge before Brunnera, by the end of April they’re both in full leaf and bloom.
Image: Helleborus ‘Harvington Double Chocolate’ courtesy of Crocus
The UK native ‘stinking Hellebore’ is named by the smell given off by its leaves when crushed. But don’t be put off, this very tough, very vibrant lime green Hellebore with a beautiful red trim to its petals is a great garden stalwart. It’s very capable of handling dry shade and year after year will emerge looking strong and fresh and relativley tall for a hellebore at 80cm. It’s statueque and along with tough but finely cut foliage makes a great addtion to a shady garden.
Image: Helleborus foetus or stinking hellebore. Don’t let the name put you off this stunning plant.
So that’s it. Our top five. But there are hundreds of Hellebores to choose from and spring is the perfect time to see them at NGS Open Gardens or at garden centres.
Author – Judy Shardlow
Expert Plantswoman and Garden Designer, Judy has over 25 years of experience in design and horticulture and holds and RHS Silver Gilt.
Contact us today for an informal chat about re-designing your garden.